Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory
Saturday 11 December, 7pm AEST, AAMI Park, Melbourne (Fox Sports 1)
If the first game was anything to go by then the second installment of the Melbourne Derby should be a cracking affair. Melbourne Heart won the first encounter 2-1 thanks to Alex Terra’s second-half volley. It was a game that had a great crowd, plenty of passion and really set the standard for what football in this country should be aspiring to achieve.
Taking first blood in the A-League’s inaugural derby fuelled their last meeting, but this time around the stakes are perhaps even higher. Whichever side loses this match could just about kiss their finals chances goodbye. The Heart are seventh on the ladder, having lost five of their last six matches in an alarming form slump following a fantastic run which included their win over the Victory. Of more concern for coach John van’t Schip is that his boys have failed to score in their last five matches, which has forced the Dutch tactician to look towards January’s transfer window in search of a strikerMeanwhile, Victory sits one place below in eighth having won only four of their 18 matches so far, albeit having played two less games than the Heart. Coach Ernie Merrick has lamented their inability to play a consistent 90 minutes, desmonstrated last Friday in conceding a last minute goal to draw 3-3 with league leaders Brisbane Roar. This came after the Victory had worked so hard in coming back from two goals down at half time to take the lead.
Clint Bolton: The veteran keeper has been in superb form between the posts all campaign, until Wednesday night’s disaster against the Newcastle Jets where he was arguably at fault for both goals. With Victory having a talented attacking structure he should expect a very busy night and, being the ultimate professional he is, he will no doubt be up for the challenge of putting Wednesday behind him and keeping a clean sheet.
Kristian Sarkies: A championship-winning player with Melbourne Victory in 2007, Sarkies will be desperate to do well against his former side. Having missed more than six months of football due to a broken leg he can not be expected to do too much. However, his 45 minute cameo on his Heart debut midweek was of the highest quality. His passing ability and superior vision stand out and the Heart were decidedly better after he came on. There will be a massive temptation for him to start but he should be used from the bench as Victory will target him aggressively.
Archie Thompson: Having been out for many months with a torn ACL, Archie is starting to hit some form. He became the first player to score 50 A-League goals when he scored against Wellington and he also netted against Brisbane Roar last week. Having missed the first derby he will be eager to stamp his mark on the rivalry and is a player who loves the big occasion, as shown with his five goals in the 2007 grand final against Adelaide United. His pace is bound to cause the Heart problems and he must be stopped if the Heart are to win.
Carlos Hernandez: The Costa Rican star was disappointing in the inaugural derby and missed a golden chance to earn his side a point with a point blank miss late on. He has been playing better in recent weeks and once again Heart will have to be on their game to stop him from being damaging, with Wayne Srhoj likely to have the job of marking him. He loves playing alongside Archie Thompson and if he is given space to play through balls the Heart’s defence could have a torrid night.
This game should be just as intense as the first derby, as both sides will be desperate to keep their seasons afloat. The Heart need to focus on being solid at the back while trying to create some decent goal-scoring chances to break the drought. They had 25 shots on goal against Newcastle in midweek, so the law of averages suggests they will score one eventually but will it be enough? Victory’s season has been stuttering for a long time now, but with a full strength squad finally available to them the excuses have run out. I believe that the Victory underestimated the Heart last time but there is no way that will happen again as they know what the Heart are capable of doing if they get it right. Whichever side decides to make a stand and impose themselves on the match will win, but Victory’s attack is very dangerous and against a slow Heart backline they may just have too many weapons.
Melbourne Heart heads into this match with their fair share of injury issues. Eli Babalj is definitely out with a hip injury and so too is Alex Terra with a hamstring strain, while Josip Skoko and Michael Marrone will have to pass fitness tests. In positive news though, Wayne Srhoj is back from suspension, along with John Aloisi who was rested for the match against Newcastle.Kristian Sarkies is a chance to start against his former club following his 45-minute cameo in midweek. Victory look set to dump defender Rodrigo Vargas to the bench in a defensive reshuffle with Adrian Leijer likely to replace him on his return from suspension.Leigh Broxham and Ricardinho miss out due to injury.
Melbourne Heart 1-2 Melbourne Victory